“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” – my (spoiler-free) review.

Never before has the plot of a film been kept as secret as the Colonel’s recipe, with Disney issuing embargoes on early media reviews, cell phones being collected at theatre doors during last night’s premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and heavy security inside the IMAX cinema.

Was it worth it though? I was in two minds but I’d say, sure. There are at least two major events/scenes in the film that would be completely ruined if journalists or those who were invited to the advance screenings decided to be assholes and reveal these plot points. So, I solemnly swear I won’t do that.

The Force Awakens takes place thirty years after The Return of the Jedi, when the Resistance defeated the Galactic Empire, resulting in the death of uber-villain, Darth Vader. But the dark side of the force is never quite beaten, and an off-shoot from the Empire, The First Order, now wants to rule the galaxy.

The story begins when an old Jedi hands over a disc to the Resistance’s best pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). It contains a piece of a map that will lead to Luke Skywalker, who disappeared years ago. But a contingent of Stormtroopers, under the command of a new, Darth-looking leader, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), arrives and kills everyone they find. Poe hands the disc to his droid, BB-8, for safe-keeping.

At the same time, Stormtrooper FN-2187 (John Boyega), develops a conscious during the massacre. When Poe is captured and tortured to reveal the location of the map, FN (whom Poe renames Finn) helps the pilot escape, because “it’s the right thing to do”. Meanwhile, on the desert planet of Jakku, tough metal scavenger, Rey (Daisy Ridley), waits for her parents, who left her as a child, to return. When Poe and Finn are separated, the former trooper and Rey inadvertently join forces, and an adventure begins. Along the way, they’ll meet up with favourites from the previous films, including Han Solo (Harrison Ford), the former princess and now general of the Resistance, Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), and the popular Wookiee, Chewbacca, or Chewy.

That’s about as much of the plot I’m willing to reveal; like I promised: no spoilers.

So, does the seventh episode in the Star Wars franchise match the bar set by the first trilogy, that ended with Return of the Jedi (we’ll skip over the calamitous second trilogy of prequels)? Judging by the applause, whoops, and laughter from the dozens of die-hard fans (dressed up as Jedi, Stormtroopers, Vader, Leia, and Sith), with whom I attended the premiere, The Force Awakens more than satisfies.

Star Wars has often derisively called “low-brow” by the more snobbish Star Trek enthusiasts. But the two franchises really shouldn’t be compared beyond their mutual setting in space. Star Wars is space opera. Star Trek is pure science fiction. This make Star Wars the more audience-friendly choice; accessible to film goers who don’t appreciate more philosophical and classic sci fi.

The Force Awakens is a highly enjoyable film, though it does play it a little safe. Yes, there are one or two ‘shockers’, but in hindsight, they feel a little contrived. The first trilogy has a much darker element to it. The original director and creator, George Lucas, spent time exploring the twisted psyche of Darth Vader, and the Jedi struggle to maintain a balance between the light and dark sides of The Force, something I missed with Kylo Ren and our new heroes. Then again, there are two more films coming so director/writer JJ Abrams has time to dig a little deeper.

There is real joy in re-visiting the favourites like Han, Leia, and Chewy, but Boyega and Ridley play marvellous breakout characters. Finn has the geeky, off-beat humour that made Han such a popular character, while Rey is way more hard-core than Leia ever was. And, the new anthropomorphic droid, BB-8 (a Wall-E-like character), is cute as a button.

The Force Awakens will most certainly become another pop culture hit, and the film is expected to gross around $1 billion at the box office. For like, the first time ever, a blockbuster is being released in South African cinemas before anywhere else in the world, including the US (hence the stern warnings about releasing plot details before the other premieres).

Episode VII is fun, satisfying entertainment. Perfect holiday watching, really.

PS. Follow my lead. Don’t be dick. Be lekker and don’t tweet or post spoilers on social media.

Director: JJ Abrams

Cast: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Lupita Nyong’o

Rating: 3½ out of 5

SA release date: 16 December 2015

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